Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: Fandomania: Characters and Cosplay

Dorfman, E. (2007). Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay. Aperture. ISBN: 978-1597110358
When I first saw this book on Amazon I thought that it looked neat. It was sold as a book featuring shots that are just cosplayers, no fancy backgrounds, no props, no fancy posing. The focus is the costumes and the people who made their costumes. I naturally interlibrary loan'd this in a heartbeat. I'm really glad I didn't buy it.

The first thing you'll notice is that the cover is craft foam. I used identical pale blue craft foam in my EDI costume, needless to say this is a really fun idea for a book on cosplay.

Inside the book is a short, few page essay written by someone who wasn't the photographer, apparently a random art critic. Okay. Weird. But whatever. Reading the essay intro thing I now kind of understand where a good number of people might have gotten the idea that cosplay is really just fetish wear that people put a good bit of effort into making. It mentions how clearly cosplay is just young people exploring their identity, sexual and otherwise.

If people want to cosplay and have it be a fetish thing, that's fine. I just don't appreciate someone labelling all of cosplay as something like that. Also early in the essay it mentions how this book purposefully goes out of it's way to not be condescending or treat the subjects like freaks but the essay itself does and going into looking at the pictures after gives a distinct freak show vibe to the whole thing.

So going in to the meat of the book I've already been put in a 'this is going to be a freak show?' mind set and from some of the preview pics from Amazon I knew that the posing would get a bit awkward at times.

How, exactly, does this showcase the cosplayer? There were a few instances where the posing wasn't awkward it just made for a straight up bad photo. There's only hints at details shown here. Either a full side or some nature of front shot would have captured the detailed bits of the costume better. I want to see the details of her costume! I thought we'd get those weird model casting shots of basically from the front quick snaps. Something not posed and not artificially artsy. I was very wrong. All of the photos are taken either from "artsy" point of views or the posing feels incredibly awkward. A number of the poses felt like clearly these were shots the photographer took between the cosplayers actually posing. Looking at the pictures there's a number that just make me feel sad. The disjointed and awkward between frames posing just gives the whole thing a feel of melancholy.

The other main issue is that a number of the subjects that are photographed are not in fact cosplaying. I chose this particular one for the specific fact that in the information section this is listed as "Character: Original". That's it. All of the other fan or original characters at least came up with a name for their not part of any canon character or a descriptor (ie "Character: Gothic Lolita"). Now if this book was just trying to represent people you see at conventions that'd be different but it isn't. The book specifically states that it is giving a look at cosplay in the title and in the foreword.

At the very end of the book is a list of each of the people in the book, who their character is and what series they're from when that applies. I appreciated it since I was able to confirm some of the characters I thought some of the people were.

The final thing I have to say about this book is that it fails to mention where these photos were taken. The foreword implies they were taken at a convention but no specific convention or even a year is given. If the author was really trying to make this seem like a legit cross section of the cosplay world then they should have included where and when the photos were collected but that's the thing. This book stated it wanted to give a genuine, distilled view into cosplay that wasn't a "look at these freak show kids", a view without the artifice of posing or props or backgrounds but in purposefully choosing particularly awkward shots that's the exact feel they got.

If you want to check out this book then go for it but if you're doing a paper/thesis/any sort of meaningful research into cosplay this is a total waste of time.

3/10 (would have been lower but the craft foam cover is boss)

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